Sense of team spirit: Naval officer defends Singapore with her work family in their ‘second home’

Having to live, work and play together in the same space with her sailors, Senior Lieutenant Colonel Chua Eileen appreciates the tight-knit support of the Republic of Singapore Navy

SLTC Chua was previously the Commanding Officer of RSS Supreme. She was promoted from LTC to SLTC in 2021. PHOTO: MINDEF

Senior Lieutenant Colonel (SLTC) Chua Eileen is a woman who wears many hats in the Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN).

Over her 17-year career in the RSN, she has been a coach, a mentor, a human resource manager and a trainer, among other roles.

SLTC Chua has assumed various appointments in the RSN, such as the Navigation Officer and Communications Officer on the Victory-class Missile Corvettes, RSS Victory and RSS Vengeance, where she was involved in the operationalisation of the Scaneagle Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) for use on the Corvettes.

SLTC Chua also previously assumed the position of Future Operations Planner in the multinational combined Task Force 151, responsible for counter-piracy operations in the Gulf of Aden. 

In this role, she worked with naval officers from all over the world, including commanders from Indonesia, Brunei and the United Kingdom, to ensure the most effective resource allocation for future anti-piracy operations.

She later served as Executive Officer on the Formidable-class Frigates, RSS Stalwart and RSS Formidable, where she was sent on multiple deployments across Asia and Oceania to further defence relations with Singapore’s partner navies.

There, SLTC Chua led and participated in collaborative drills in naval warfighting and maritime security operations, which also involved live-firing of missiles and other weapons systems.

She later went on to command her own Formidable-class Frigate, RSS Supreme, which took part in the Rim of the Pacific Exercise (RIMPAC) 2020 in Hawaii.

Under her command during RIMPAC, RSS Supreme successfully  participated in a ship-to-ship refuelling with the United States and Australian navies, and even conducted the live-firing of a surface-to-air missile at a high-speed, sea-skimming drone target.

SLTC Chua (front row, third from right) feels that going through all the ups and downs together with her teammates strengthens their bond and makes her appreciate them more. PHOTO: MINDEF

All these would have been admirable in themselves but the fact that this 70-day deployment was done at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic – without a single day of stepping foot ashore – is something that SLTC Chua is particularly proud of. 

“Despite countries all round pulling back and hunkering down, the Navy knew that we had to continue showing our strength,” she says. 

“We had to show that we were still ready to defend and deter, so we deployed with comprehensive Covid-19 safety management measures, and successfully completed all our missions.”

Today, she is the Head of the Operations Planning Branch in the Naval Operations Department, where she and her team formulates plans for the Navy to handle the myriad operations in protecting Singapore’s maritime sovereignty and sea lines of communication.

A second “family” at her back

SLTC Chua has seen more of the world than the average person. From exploring the furthest corners of Europe during her university days, to directing simulated combat operations off the coast of Hawaii, to sharing cocktails with fellow commanders aboard foreign naval vessels, she has tens of thousands of nautical miles under her belt. 

But it is still surreal to SLTC Chua as she looks back on how far – literally and figuratively – she has come from years ago, as a junior college student standing in front of the RSN booth at a career fair.

Back then, she had thought that there was something very noble about devoting oneself to the defence of one’s country, which spurred her to become a Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) scholar in the first place. 

It was a visit to a naval base during her Basic Military Training that made her set on joining the RSN – in particular, the overwhelming sense of familial spirit and camaraderie that she felt just by being there.

It makes perfect sense to her now, after close to two decades in the RSN. “We are the one service that lives, works and plays all in the same space, our second home – our ship,” she says. 

“We are literally ‘on the same boat’,” she continues. “Living, working, and going through all the ups and downs together makes us more tight-knit.”

So even more than the sights and sounds of the world, SLTC Chua has come to appreciate what is around her the most – that is, the sailors of the RSN. 

With her husband, parents and six-year-old child waiting for her at home, she is reminded of the importance of keeping Singapore’s waters safe every time she sets sail.

Having to be away from them each deployment is always painful, but having a second family around her, supporting her every step of the way, makes the distance that much easier to bear. 

Even today, she remains heartened by how Navy personnel – be they shipmates, coursemates, or even crew from different vessels – rally together to offer support and resources.

For instance, before RSS Supreme went on deployment, SLTC Chua and her sailors had to undergo a two-week isolation period to ensure they were free from Covid-19.

In that time, the crew of other ships stepped up to cover the duties of RSS Supreme, with some even sending food and care packages to their quarantining comrades.

This is just one of the ways in which SLTC Chua has seen servicemen show deep care and concern for one another.

In the Navy, the environment is highly collaborative, she explains. “We focus a lot on teamwork as we groom and develop the next generation. 

“My teammates around me help one another grow, and genuinely look forward to nurturing the next generation of sailors and leaders.”

Find out more about MINDEF/SAF scholarships (now open for application) today.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.